As the spring semester commences for college students across the nation, many will begin spring internships and apply for summer engagements. This is the time we scour internship sites for meaningful, resume-boosting gigs that will keep us busy and productive. However, many students fall into the trap of spending their valuable time on internships that are absolutely not worth their effort. Before committing to a mediocre internship that does not pay, students should consider the true cost of unpaid internships.
Above all else, college students deserve to be paid for their work, especially for those of us living in the city. Housing, food and travel do not come cheap. Unpaid internships, many of which take up more hours than stated in the application, cannot compensate for any of a student’s expenses. A system that abuses the promise of jobs for free work now is unjust. The US Department of Labor has set out standards for companies who hire unpaid interns to ensure the internship is fair. One of these stipulations is the student must be working in an educational setting, like training, during the internship. This means that companies generally must compensate students with academic credit. However, just like any other class, students must pay for their credit hours at astronomical costs. So, not only do students pay for their normal expenses for living, but now pay for their universities and colleges without any kind of income.
Labor rights have been integral to American progress, and this continuing fight is carried on in part by unpaid interns. Lawsuits against major corporations for their treatment of interns has seen a major upswing in recent years. Former interns have sued companies such as Fox Searchlight Pictures, CBS, Hearst, Rolling Stone and NBCUniversal on labor violation claims. In a world in which an undergraduate degree is no longer a promise of job security, that unpaid internship can seem vital to helping your resume stick out among all the rest of the college graduates. However, a study published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers states that paid interns are better paid and are more frequently offered full-time positions after graduation.
So, before deciding what to do this semester and finalizing summer plans, consider the personal cost. The stress and time commitment for some internships may not be worth it without pay. While there are surely more unpaid than paid opportunities, it may be wiser to add a “paid only” filter to your results on internship databases. If students begin to demand fair compensation for the hard work that they do, perhaps more companies will follow suit and pay up.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 23 print edition. Email Connor Borden at [email protected]